Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. Eligible students can apply to receive up to twelve months of OPT employment authorization before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) and/or completing their academic studies (post-completion). All periods of pre-completion OPT will be deducted from the available period of post-completion OPT.
F-1 students may apply to participate in pre-completion OPT after they have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year at a college, university, conservatory, or seminary that has been certified by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to enroll F-1 students. If an F-1 student is authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT, they may work part time (20 hours or less per week) while school is in session. They may work full-time when school is not in session.
F-1 students may apply to participate in post-completion OPT after completing their studies. If the student is authorized for post-completion OPT, they may work part time (20 hours or less per week) or full time. If they have participated in pre-completion OPT, USCIS will deduct that amount of time from their post-completion OPT authorized period.
On March 11, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a Final Rule allowing certain F-1 students who receive qualifying degrees in certain science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields to apply for a twenty-four (24) month extension of their post-completion OPT employment authorized. F-1 student must be employed by an employer who is enrolled in and is using E-Verify and must have received an initial grant of post-completion OPT employment authorization based on their STEM degree.
OPT/STEM OPT Challenges
How do I know if my degree qualifies for STEM OPT?
An F-1 student can consult the STEM Designated Degree Program List, located at https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2016/stem-list.pdf.
Do I need to establish an employee-employer relationship as an OPT student?
Yes, there must be a demonstrable employee-employer relationship.
What kind of compliance must I maintain as a candidate for OPT/STEM OPT?
Candidates must ensure compliance with reporting and evaluation requirements. They must also provide timely updates to their school’s Designated School Officials (DSOs) of any material changes in their employment.
What is the H-1B Cap Gap?
Initial H-1Bs take effect on October 1st every year. This is the date when foreign nationals with approved initial H-1B visas may begin to work for their sponsoring employers. However, if an F-1 student has been offered an H-1B visa, his or her F-1 status will have expired before the October 1st start date for employment. This period between the end of the F-1 student’s graduating year and the beginning of H-1B employment is known as the “H-1B Cap Gap.” However, it is possible to obtain a cap-gap extension to cover the months in-between the end of the F-1 validity and the beginning of H-1B employment.
What is E-Verify?
E-Verify is a web-based system that allows enrolled employers to confirm the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States. E-Verify employers verify the identity and employment eligibility of newly hired employees by electronically matching information provided by employees on the Employment Eligibility Verification Form (Form I-9), against records available to the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
An F-1 student’s employer must be rolled, and maintain good standing in, E-Verity.
What if lose my OPT/STEM OPT job during my validity period?
Candidates may not exceed over 150 days of unemployment during their post-completion OPT work authorization period and the twenty-four month STEM extension combined.